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Football fans in New York’s ’Little France’ weep for Les Bleus

Sam Ball / FRANCE 24 | Fans gather to watch the Euro 2016 final between France and Portugal at the Bar Tabac in New York on Sunday July 10, 2016

France's pain at losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal on Sunday was felt keenly by French supporters everywhere, even those nearly 6,000 kilometres away at Bar Tabac, in the heart of New York's burgeoning French community.


People on a terrace sip wine and pastis, while nearby a game of petanque takes place under a sunny sky, and a sea of football fans dressed in blue gather around a television screen for the start of the Euro 2016 final.

It could be a scene from any number of French towns and cities on Sunday as Les Bleus took on Portugal at the Stade de France in Paris for the right to be crowned champions of Europe.

But this part of New York, around the Cobble Hill neighbourhood of Brooklyn, is no stranger to Gallic culture. It is where many of the city's growing number of French expats – around 75,000 by some estimates – have chosen to call home, so much so that some have begun to dub it "Little France".

Bar Tabac, a favourite haunt for Brooklyn's homesick French expats, is full to the rafters. It has been showing all of France's Euro 2016 matches, but for the final they have also set up two big screens on the terrace outside to accommodate the crowds.

Mohamed, 32, his young daughter in his arms, is one of the neighbourhood's relatively recent newcomers, having made the move from France a year and a half ago.

Like many Europeans in New York, he's finding that following his national team can be a challenge.

"The Euros have been complicated to watch because of the time difference," he says. "But what's good is that I work in a French bank and lot of the employees are French, so they let us stop working to watch the matches. They show the games on screens that normally show what's happening in the markets."

Mohamed, 32, moved from France to New York one and a half years ago.
Mohamed, 32, moved from France to New York one and a half years ago.

The match also happens to coincide with an annual Bastille Day celebration held on the same street, hence the petanque tournament and stalls selling everything from croissants to crêpes.

But most people's minds are firmly on the football.

"I have a knot in my stomach," says Rama, who moved to New York 18 years ago. "Even if I'm very confident we'll win."

In fact, many are already looking ahead to the celebrations that will follow France's march to glory.

"I haven't missed a single match since the start of the Euros," says Rama's friend André, who has only been in New York for a year. "But I miss the celebrations after the match that you get in France – everyone there must be going crazy."

To be able to celebrate – or commiserate – in the company of countrymen and women is what seems to have brought most people to Bar Tabac at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon.

From left to right: Rama, Arto, André and Andry.
From left to right: Rama, Arto, André and Andry.

"It's the best you can get here without actually being in France – it's Bastille Day, it's the final, the rosé is flowing," says Cyril, a 30-year-old restaurant manager from Toulouse who has lived in New York for the past four years.

"If we win, we're going to celebrate just as much as we would in France. And if we lose, we're still going to have a party. We'll already be drunk anyway."

'Sad French faces'

As the game is about to get underway, a hearty rendition of La Marseillaise is belted out by the crowd. A bright start by France is greeted by chants of "Allez Les Bleus" and general high spirits.

When Cristiano Ronaldo goes down with an injury, nearly everyone in the crowd boos, then cheers when the Portuguese captain is stretchered off in tears. Being thousands of kilometres from home, it seems, does nothing to quell the average footballer supporter's partisan nature.

But as the game progresses and France fail to find the back of the net, the mood among the crowd turns increasingly tense before giving way to outright dismay when Antonio Eder's injury time strike gives Portugal the lead.

"I feel sick," one female supporter can be heard saying over the stunned silence.

Fans look on as the game nears its end with Portugal winning 1-0.
Fans look on as the game nears its end with Portugal winning 1-0.

By the time the final whistle blows, some fans have their heads in their hands while others just file away quietly.

A few, like Fabienne, are in tears.

"I'm devastated" she says. "The referee made two big mistakes but it was our own fault. We didn't attack enough."

Being around other people from her homeland helps with the disappointment, she says, even after 20 years of living in the Big Apple. "It feels really like being in France. People are even smoking outside."

As the crowd begins to disperse, others are glad, under the circumstances, to be so far from home.

"It's better to be here," says Marco, a 30-year-old construction manager originally from Arras. "I wouldn't want to see all those sad French faces at the office in the morning. At least here no one is going to ask me about soccer tomorrow."

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